The rural broadband rollout will extend to Tory heartlands as nearly 2 million more homes will get superfast internet.
It comes after ministers first targeted Red Wall Tory constituencies when it announced plans for the £5bn Project Gigabit broadband upgrade in rural areas in March.
Durham, Tyneside and Teesside areas, Northumberland and Cambridge were all announced as parts of the country that would first receive improvements to broadband as part of its ‘levelling up’ agenda.
At the time Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, wrote in The Telegraph: “As we build back better from the pandemic, Project Gigabit is the game changer: a huge infrastructure project that will level up the country in the most tangible of ways, leaving this country more confident, more prosperous, and more united than ever before.”
The latest development comes as the Conservatives have been accused of neglecting their Tory heartlands in recent months, following the humiliating defeat at the Chesham and Amersham by-election – a seat which the party has held since its creation in 1974. Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, celebrated victory in June by knocking down a blue wall – representing Tory heartlands – with an orange hammer.
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It led to Boris Johnson’s cabinet urging him to adopt a more "Tory-focused approach" and not to take the party's support base in the rural South for granted.
Now, in the latest phase of the project the Government has announced that almost half a million premises in Shropshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will be among the first to benefit followed by counties including Derbyshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Surrey, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Staffordshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.
It means up to 1,850,000 additional premises across 26 English counties will get access to gigabit speed internet of 1,000 megabits per second, which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said is enough to download a HD film in less than 30 seconds.
“Millions will now be lifted out of the digital slow lane”
It brings the current total number of premises in scope for government-funded coverage to 2.2 million, with more still to be announced over the coming months across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr Dowden said: “Project Gigabit is our national mission to level up rural areas by giving them the fastest internet speeds on the market.”
He said that the project meant “millions more rural homes and businesses will now be lifted out of the digital slow lane”.
"This broadband revolution will create jobs, power up businesses and allow everyone to access vital services at lightning fast speed, helping us build back better from the pandemic,” he added.
It is understood that 42 percent of households have access to gigabit speeds today, up from just one in ten in 2019. Meanwhile, the UK is on track for the fastest rollout in Europe this year and for 60 percent of all households to have access to gigabit speeds by the end of this year.
By 2025 the government hopes to hit its target of achieving at least 85 per cent gigabit-capable UK coverage.
It has also been confirmed that the Scottish and Welsh governments and 15 English councils have made at least an extra £26 million available in top-ups to the UK Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. The scheme, which is available nationwide, covers the costs of a gigabit connection in areas that are particularly difficult to reach, and the top-ups boost the financial help available.
The first Project Gigabit contracts announced in March are expected to commence from May next year, which includes 349,000 premises in Essex, Dorset, Cumbria, Cambridgeshire, Northumberland, Durham, Tyneside, Teesside and Cornwall.
Many more areas are due for upgrades under the scheme and will be announced by the Government later this year, with hundreds of thousands more homes and businesses set to benefit.
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